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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

#83 - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Michel Gondry, 2004

A man discovers that his girlfriend has had all her memories of his existence erased from her mind, so he decides to undergo the same procedure to erase his memories of her.

Despite the fact that he has the kind of creative sensibility that should seriously endear me to his work, I do feel a sort of resistance to the cinematic creations of Charlie Kaufman. This remove is most apparent when I watch what is probably the most all-around popular/acclaimed film he's ever penned, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It's one of those films that simply feels "too perfect" - there's not exactly anything out of place about it, which only serves to make it feel strangely flawed. It's probably as accessible as Kaufman gets with its high concept about a company that erases people's memories, most prominently those who would like to forget about their failed romantic relationships. After beginning with a meet-cute between Jim Carrey's buttoned-down neurotic and Kate Winslet's exuberant wild child, the story really starts with the revelation that Winslet has not only broken up with Carrey but also erased her memories of him as well. As a result, a spiteful Carrey decides to undergo the same procedure himself; however, he soon begins to have second thoughts...

In theory, Eternal Sunshine... has a lot going for it. Carrey provides what might be his greatest performance as yet another one of Kaufman's sad-sack protagonists, though Kaufman files the edges off in order to make him just sympathetic enough to meet the story's needs. Winslet's character functions as a deconstruction of stereotypical quirky girlfriends yet she is afforded enough nuance as both a real and imaginary character. The rest of the cast tend to consist of a handful of recognisable actors (such as Tom Wilkinson, Mark Ruffalo, and Kirsten Dunst) performing in fairly serviceable supporting roles - the most notable of these is Elijah Wood as one especially opportunistic employee of the memory-erasing clinic. This tendency towards straightforward characterisation is at once contrasted and reflected in the film's more deliberately surreal aspects, such as a barrage of tricks when it comes to camerawork, editing, and effects in order to simulate the gradual elimination of Carrey's memories (and his eventual journey through them). This is done in ways ranging from something as grandiose as a building disappearing into nothingness piece by piece or simple things just as lights literally going out one at a time. The dreamlike state helps to justify some of the more obvious instances of special effects, too - suspension of disbelief is not exactly difficult here.

While I do like how the film jumps between different planes of reality and points in time to tell its dreamy tale, the romantic elements at the heart of the story don't exactly click for me despite the deconstructive approach on offer. It's a compelling enough story that the time tends to just breeze by, but it does so at the cost of feeling a tad inconsequential. Though there are various twists and turns that can't be seen coming on an initial viewing, a second viewing does very little to enhance the experience - if anything, I found that a knowledge of what was about to come next diminished the film and its attempts to unfold a complex (but not too complex) tale of a broken relationship. At least it's generally well-crafted and I do like the world-building that went into the science-fiction side of things. As a result, while I can appreciate Eternal Sunshine... for its brisk pacing and intriguing concept, the final film still a bit too neat and antiseptic despite its commitment to showcasing the messiness associated with love and relationships (both in terms of fleeting highs and crushing lows). I'm definitely bound to watch it again once I've forgotten enough about it, though.